Scientists have developed an “electronic nose” that can sniff out cancer in a patient’s breath.
Known as the Nano Artificial NOSE, (NA-NOSE), the technology is able to distinguish molecules found in the breath of cancer patients and those of healthy people.
Israeli scientists tested the device on 82 volunteers; 22 with head and neck cancer; 24 with lung cancer and 36 healthy individuals.
As well as being able to detect cancer molecules in the exhaled breath of head-and-neck cancer patients.
It also distinguished between lung cancer patients and healthy people, and between head-and-neck and lung cancer patients.
Each year in the UK around 8,700 people are diagnosed with head-and-neck cancer, which includes cancers of the eyes, mouth, larynx and oesophagus.
This includes a range of different tumour types occurring in the tissues or organs in the head and neck, for example salivary glands and mucus membranes.
Because it lacks specific symptoms, head-and-neck cancer is often diagnosed late, when it is more difficult to treat effectively.
Professor Hossam Haick, at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, said: “There’s an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations.
“We’ve shown that a simple ‘breath test’ can spot the patterns of molecules which are found in head-and-neck patients in a small, early study.
“We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease.”
Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “It’s incredibly important to spot the disease as soon as possible when it is easier to treat successfully.
“These interesting initial results show promise for the development of a breath test to detect head-and-neck cancers which are often diagnosed at an advanced stage.
“But it’s important to be clear that this is a small study, at a very early stage, so many more years of research with patients will be needed to see if a breath test could be used in the clinic.”
The findings are published in the Journal of Cancer Research.